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Report: UK nets stand firm during pandemic

May 13, 2020

Average UK broadband speeds largely held up during the Covid-19 lockdown – despite rising demand from home working, online lessons and TV streaming.

Ofcom’s Home Broadband Performance Report reveals how broadband speeds changed before and after the lockdown measures came in – when there was a surge in broadband use. Download and upload speeds fell only by 2 per cent and 1 per cent respectively.

Demands on the broadband network have been driven in part by home working and by school closures, leading to a rise in people using streaming and educational services. Some providers have reported an increase in weekday daytime traffic of between 35 per cent and 60 per cent since the coronavirus restrictions came in.

As children and adults look for ways to entertain themselves indoors, Netflix download speeds fell by 3 per cent in the lockdown period compared to pre-lockdown – indicating that people rushed to catch-up with their favourite shows in their free time. But data use from increased screen time was offset by Netflix reducing the streaming quality of its content.

The responsiveness (latency) of broadband networks – the delay between a connection requesting an action and that action taking place – also remained stable. The 2 per cent increase in delay measured would have had little effect on performance for most people.

The report also reveals that broadband speeds in rural areas are catching up to those in towns and cities. The proportion of rural lines receiving at least superfast broadband (30 Mbit/s and above) during peak times continues to increase – from 44 per cent in 2018 to 56 per cent in 2019 – while the proportion not  receiving a decent connection (10 Mbit/s and above) at peak times fell from 33 per cent to 22 per cent.

But broadband speeds in rural areas still lag behind those in urban areas. Urban peak-time speeds reached 75 Mbit/s, almost double the rural average of 39 Mbit/s in 2019.

“Broadband in the UK has really been put to the test by the pandemic, so it’s encouraging that speeds have largely held up,” commented Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Group Director for Strategy and Research. “This has helped people to keep working, learning and staying connected with friends and family.”

Separately, Ofcom has published its Connected Nations spring update, which provides a summary of broadband availability and mobile coverage in the UK as of January 2020, before the outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK. This shows that:

  • 5 million homes (12 per cent) can now access full-fibre broadband, up by a fifth since September last year.
  • Availability of other high-speed broadband services has continued to increase. Ultrafast broadband (speeds of 300 Mbit/s and above), is now available to 55 per cent of UK households, compared to 53 per cent in Ofcom’s last update – an increase of 700,000 homes. Superfast broadband remains available to 95 per cent of UK households, but the total number of homes able to receive superfast broadband has increased by 300,000.
  • Around 2 per cent of homes and businesses are unable to get a decent fixed broadband connection (offering download speeds of 10 Mbit/s and upload speeds of 1 Mbit/s). However, anyone who cannot get a decent service, now has the legal right to request one – thanks to new rules that came into force in March. The continued rollout of mobile broadband services is also helping to get more people connected.
  • Ofcom is ensuring its regulation helps support local areas as they roll out faster fibre networks – including price protections for customers. This is part of its work to support competition and investment into faster, more reliable fibre networks.
  • Mobile coverage remains largely unchanged since Ofcom’s December report. But since then, the UK Government and four mobile network providers have agreed to develop a shared rural network, to help improve coverage across the UK. Each company has committed to deliver good-quality 4G coverage to at least 90 per cent of the UK over the next six years.

An Openreach spokesperson said: “It’s true, our network’s coped well during the pandemic. Despite the extra demand, in the last 30 days alone we’ve seen an increase in overall traffic volume across our network – particularly during daytime hours – and this wouldn’t have been possible without the skill and commitment of our people.”

“As key workers, they’ve been cracking on with the job of building and maintaining links for millions of homes, businesses, GP surgeries, care homes and a long list of critical services such as 999, and the new Nightingale hospitals.”

“We’re also continuing to invest in reaching the small minority of homes that can’t order a decent broadband service today, so it’s good to see that gap closing. There’s more to do though, and last week we upped our target to build ultrafast, ultrareliable Full Fibre broadband to 20 million premises by the mid-to-late 2020s – assuming we get the right investment conditions.”


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